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Community Engagement Success: Good Things Happening with Strategic Plans

One of the most important pieces of advice I give new school district leaders is don’t turn your strategic plan into another “shelf document.”

In my travels to schools across the country, I’ve seen too many strategic plans shoved in an administrator’s desk drawer or collecting dust on a shelf. I suspect it’s because these plans were developed to meet requirements, rather than to help set a vision for the future.

As a former district superintendent, I can tell you that strategic plans fail, more often than not, because they lack the buy-in from parents, teachers, staff, students, and the larger community. Often, these plans are hastily assembled by an internal committee, or—worse—by a small team of educators or administrators tasked with leading the district’s accreditation efforts.

Lately, I’ve been talking with school leaders about the critical role that strong customer experiences play in building a positive school culture and climate. Not only should great customer service be “baked” into your strategic plan, it should be used in the development of that plan, by asking students, parents, teachers, staff, and the community to weigh in on the strategic planning process.

If you’re looking to develop a strategic plan that fuels your mission—and not one that simply sits on your shelf—start with these four steps.

1. Seek input from the people who matter most

You may be a school leader who prides him- or herself on listening to a variety of voices in your community. But no matter how well you listen, you’re bound to have blind spots.

Your next strategic plan should include a wide range of feedback.


  • Develop a strategy for how, when, and where you’re going to solicit feedback.
  • Focus the conversation with specific questions you want your community to answer.
  • Use multiple channels to meet every community member where they are most comfortable expressing themselves.

2. Turn priorities into action items

Say you do get feedback from parents, students, teachers, and staff. What’s next?

Use that feedback—combined with your own internal data and observations—to establish three to five focus areas for your plan. Each focus area should include a clearly stated goal, key objectives, specific actions, and a measure of success


  • Know the differences between goals and objectives. Goals are broad ideas for the future of your district. Objectives are measurable and specific.
  • Define strategies that will help you reach your objectives. Outline the steps you’ll take to execute every core element of your strategy and who will be responsible. 
  • Set clear KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that will help you track progress.
  • Execute against your goals and objectives.

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3. Commit to your plan

When it comes to effective school leadership, consistency and commitment are key. The real work of strategic planning doesn’t end when the plan is written. That’s when it begins.


  • Budget smart to ensure you have the resources necessary to support your plan.
  • Be an example of how important adhering to your strategic vision is. When administrators, teachers, and other staff members see your commitment, they’ll be more willing to commit to the plan themselves.

4. Monitor. Adjust. Repeat.

Remember, strategic plans are printed on paper, not written in stone. You and your team should be constantly monitoring your progress and, of course, regularly asking for feedback from your community and staff. You should be open to whatever adjustments that need to be made to improve your plan moving forward.


  • Examine the data to understand the progress you’ve made and where you need to adjust. 
  • Build a dashboard that helps you easily monitor your KPIs and share information to community and board members. 
  • Review your plan at least once a year and look for areas where you can improve or rethink your approach.

Looking for ideas to inform your strategic planning process and get people involved? I’m happy to share lessons learned as a former superintendent in Louisiana and Michigan. Drop me a quick email at gerald.dawkins@k12insight.com and let’s have a conversation.